If you see something, say something – Safeguarding is everyone’s business.

Cornwall Council has commissioned a short film highlighting the importance of Safeguarding for both children and adults. The title of the film is simple. If you see something, say something.

Alex Folkes is formally censured for his conduct

An investigation into the conduct of the former Cornwall Councillor, Alex Folkes has now been completed, with the results of that investigation being publicilly released.

For Mr Folkes, it is damning, as the censure statement shows:

The subject member is hereby formally censured for his entirely inappropriate conduct that resulted in the serious and significant breaches found.  In particular, the misleading statements the subject member made, including deliberate attempts to undermine the credibility of the Council and the LADO process, fell far short of the conduct that can reasonably be expected of an elected member.  If it were not for the robust and entirely appropriate actions taken by the Council, including through the complainant and other senior officers, there was a risk of the Council being brought into disrepute. 

 

That the subject member sought to discredit the LADO process and those involved in that process was inexcusable given that the process has at its very core the protection of children.  The credibility of the LADO process is fundamental to the safeguarding of children who may have been subjected to or are at risk of abuse. 

 

The subject member’s malicious attempt to undermine the LADO process and those involved in it demonstrated that he was prepared to put his own credibility and reputation above his responsibilities as both an elected member and a Cabinet member to safeguard the interests of children in Cornwall.  That is an inexcusable act and falls far below standards of behaviour that can reasonably be expected, whether by a councillor or otherwise.”

The actual decision notice is available on the relevant Standards Committee web page at the link below:http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/councillors-and-democracy/standards-committee-information/decision-notices-april-2015-to-march-2016/

I am sure you will read the full findings, however, a further point I would like to highlight is:

I am aware of the subject member’s blog and the statement made on it by him on 20 November 2014 that

“I cannot blame the police for investigating based on the information they received. The whole episode put me through a huge trauma but I am reassured that they took such matters very seriously and I am glad that they were able to establish my innocence as they did”. The police did not proceed to prosecution. That is not the same as the police being able to establish the subject member’s innocence. Had the police been satisfied that they had established the subject member’s innocence there would have been no cause for the information relating to the incident in 2006 to have been recorded such that it was disclosed in the 2009 criminal records check.

The Standards Committee determined that the actions appropriate to address breaches I had found are that:

  • The subject member should be censured (see above);
  • A public statement/press release be issued by the Council to coincide with publication of this decision notice; and
  • The subject member be asked to offer an apology to Councillor Rowe for failing to disclose the 2006 arrest and related circumstances to him. By the provision of this decision notice that request is now made to him.

The public statement/press release has been settled with the Chairman of the Standards Committee in accordance with the decision of the Committee.

The censure has been determined by the Chairman of the Standards Committee in conjunction with myself, again in accordance with the decision of the Standards Committee.

“The subject member is hereby formally censured for his entirely inappropriate conduct that resulted in the serious and significant breaches found. In particular, the misleading statements the subject member made, including deliberate attempts to undermine the credibility of the Council and the LADO process, fell far short of the conduct that can reasonably be expected of an elected member. If it were not for the robust and entirely appropriate actions taken by the Council, including through the complainant and other senior officers, there was a risk of the Council being brought into disrepute.

That the subject member sought to discredit the LADO process and those involved in that process was inexcusable given that the process has at its very core the protection of children. The credibility of the LADO process is fundamental to the safeguarding of  children who may have been subjected to or are at risk of abuse. The subject member’s malicious attempt to undermine the LADO process and those involved in it demonstrated that he was prepared to put his own credibility and reputation above his responsibilities as both an elected member and a Cabinet member to safeguard the interests of children in Cornwall. That is an inexcusable act and falls far below standards of behaviour that can reasonably be expected, whether by a councillor or otherwise.”

In my role as Lead Member for Children’s Services, I have to a point remained publically quiet on this matter due to the ongoing investigations.

However, now I have the opportunity to publicilly praise child protection officers, the LADO process and all those associated with it for their work in protecting children from harm.

The fact is the LADO process is robust, and its decision that – the former Councillor – Alex Folkes, is a ‘serious and enduring risk to children’ still stands.

I will at this point say that I was disgusted that someone who is a serious and enduring risk to children was able to remain in office. He was welcomed by people even though the experts in child protection – via the LADO process – had reached the decision Alex Folkes is a ‘serious and enduring risk’ to children. Yet from my point of view, some people did not take this seriously.

It is important to highlight, the Council did not have the legal power to remove Alex Folkes from his position as a Councillor. The Council has never had the power to sack a councillor, although it could previously suspend councillors following the investigation and determination of Code of Conduct complaints. However, following the Government’s changes to the Code of Conduct complaints process, this sanction is no longer available.

The standards board decision, and the censure notice vindicates those officers who did their duty to protect children from harm. I hope those who dismissed the LADO decision will now think again on the seriousness of child protection and how there are processes in place to protect children.

Details of the Code of Conduct complaints process are available at this page:

http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/councillors-and-democracy/standards-committee-information/code-of-conduct-complaints/

(I have taken the decision that on this blog, there will be no comments)

Cornwall Council approves ‘basic’ DBS checks for councillors

At the last full council meeting, councillors debated and voted in favour for basic checks for all councillors and enhanced checks for those on the Cabinet and the fostering and adoption panels. Also approved was for the council to lobby the Government to change the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to allow all Cornwall councillors to have an enhanced check.

I have said in a previous blog post that the law is an ass when it comes to who and can be DBS’d.  I fail to see why all those who are in the role of a Cornwall councillor cannot have an enhanced check.

For those who may not know it, a basic check will only show unspent convictions. Whereas a standard or enhanced check will show far more detail. The majority of councillors want members to have enhanced checks and the Council took legal Counsel to see if there was anyway to do enhanced checks as pre the 2012 Act, all Cornwall councillors could – and did – have enhanced checks.

However, the advice from Counsel was:

  • Basic Certificates are available for all Members and co-optees on payment of the prescribed fee, without further eligibility criteria. Certificates list only unspent convictions. The Council is at liberty to request basic certificates in respect of any elected Member or co-optee;
  • The Council will be entitled to obtain a Standard Certificate in respect of a Member who carries out a regulated activity, in relation to either children or vulnerable adults. In essence, this means any Member who discharges an education or social services function, or sits on any body, committee or sub-committee that does so, by virtue of the saved definition of regulated activity;
  • The Council will also be entitled to obtain an Enhanced Certificate in respect of a Member whenever it can obtain a Standard Certificate. This means that the Council can obtain an Enhanced Certificate for a Member who discharges an education or social services function, or sits on any body, committee or sub-committee that does so;
  • The Council is also entitled to apply for a Standard Certificate or an Enhanced Certificate for any person who has been co-opted onto a Council committee with education or social services functions, even if that person is not a Council Member;
  • Members are unlikely to be undertaking regulated activity under the revised definition and in the absence of such activities being undertaken they are not eligible for enhanced checks with a check of either of the barred lists, being the lists of those barred from working with children, young people or vulnerable adults;
  • Substitutes are in the same position as substantive members of committees; and
  • The Council is entitle, but not required, to seek an enhanced check under the applicable legislative provisions where so indicated above. However, when doing so, it is important that the Council considers whether it is necessary and proportionate to do so, given the particular functions of the committee or other body in question.

The counsels last point:

Requiring an Enhanced check is self-evidently a substantial interference with a person’s right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This concerns me the most, as whilst I do understand the need to respect the right of private life, I believe child protection and protecting vulnerable adults trumps this, and therefore should take priority.

The report on who and why someone can be DBS’d can be found HERE.

As for what ‘regulated ‘ activity is, I hope this will explain:

There are two definitions of ‘regulated activity’ to which regard must be had:

  • the definition following the changes introduced by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 which effectively restricts regulated activity to undertaking prescribed activities with children, young people or vulnerable adults during which time the child, young person or vulnerable adult might be considered to be more vulnerable to abuse. Different activities are prescribed to children, including young people, and adults. The activities are summarised in appendix 1 to the briefing note (Appendix 1 to this report) but examples include the provision of personal care such as washing or dressing and, in relation to adults, assistance in the conduct of a person’s own affairs. Counsel considers it unlikely that any elected Members or co-optees will undertake activity that will fall within this revised definition of regulated activity in their official capacity;
  • the ‘saved’ definition which preserves the definition of regulated activity as it was prior to the changes introduced by the 2012 Act in relation to membership of the Council, its Cabinet and committees, where education or social services functions are carried out. This means that a Member or co-optee will be in regulated activity, without more, if they:
  1. discharge, as a result of their membership, any education or social services functions of the Council;
  2. They are a Cabinet Member (the Cabinet discharges education and social services functions);
  3. are a member of a committee of the Cabinet (there are currently no such committees and this does not include the Policy Advisory Committees as they are committees of the Council); or
  4. they are a member of an area committee or any other committee of the Council which discharges education or social services functions. With the references to the Cabinet and ‘any other committee’ this effectively means that whatever committee a Member or co-optee is a member of they will be in regulated activity, provided the committee undertakes education or social services functions. It is accepted that membership of a committee is very different to undertaking the activities within the revised definition.

Also discussed, voted on, and approved by all but two members was the “Members’ Safeguarding and Criminal Records Checks Policy” which can be found HERE.  I welcome this policy and has incorporated a few policies into one.

I saw yesterday’s vote and approve of basic checks as a stepping stone to all elected members, no matter what committee or function they carry out having an enhanced DBS. As I said before, child protect should trump everything else.